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HISTORY - Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla.

In late 1861 Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, under the Treaty of London (1861) sent troops to Mexico, alongside Spanish and English forces, to collect debts owed by a previous Mexican government. President Benito Juárez had announced the annulment of these debts, and vowed to pay nothing to European powers. Napoleon’s troops occupied the port city of Veracruz on December 8, 1861. Soon thereafter, the accompanying British and Spanish forces returned home, having established a truce with Mexico.

The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862, near the city of Puebla during the French intervention in Mexico. Under the leadership of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín the battle ended in a victory for the Mexican Army against the occupying French forces.

The Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, was a single, important victory for the Mexican people over the occupying French Army.

The French Army at the time was led by General Charles de Lorencez. The battle came about by a misunderstanding of the French forces’ agreement to withdraw to the coast. When the Mexican people saw these French soldiers wandering about with rifles, they took it that hostilities had recommenced.

Cinco de Mayo is not "an obligatory federal holiday" in Mexico, but rather a holiday that can be observed voluntarily. While Cinco de Mayo has limited significance nationwide in Mexico, the date is observed in the United States (also voluntarily) and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, which is September 16, the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.

Charge of the mexican calvary at the Battle of Puebla. Depictions of the battle showing Mexican cavalry taking over the French troops below the fort at Loreto. Courtesy of Mike Manning